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For Tampa’s finances during coronavirus crisis, ‘nothing is off the table’

Officials are still assessing the damage to the city’s finances, but it will likely be deep.

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TAMPA — As Tampa City Council members met virtually for the first time Tuesday, they heard some ominous, though unsurprising, news over their phones: the economic damage to the city’s finances caused by the coronavirus pandemic will likely be deep.

It’s a story being played out in city halls across the country, as local governments scramble to figure out what degree of havoc the outbreak will wreak on their budgets and, possibly, services.

Chief Financial Officer Dennis Rogero told council members that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the city’s $1.04 billion budget. A chaotic stock market, an almost certain decline in sales tax revenue and an unknown effect on property taxes have combined to create a difficult fiscal challenge for Florida’s third-largest city.

“We’re looking at all of our major revenues in terms of potential reductions. We’re taking a holistic look at both revenues and expenditures,” Rogero said.

Details are still being worked out. So far, though, the city hasn’t had to dip into its reserves, Ashley Bauman, Mayor Jane Castor’s spokeswoman, told the Tampa Bay Times after the meeting.

Other officials presented brighter news.

Police Chief Brian Dugan said the number of officers in quarantine has decreased, as 41 officers have been cleared to go back to work. Calls for service are down, he said.

Ocea Wynn, the city’s neighborhood and community affairs administrator, said the city has actively tried to share information about the virus with community leaders, including distributing French language materials to the city’s Haitian and Francophone African communities.

And Carole Post, the city’s administrator for economic development and opportunity, said that construction permitting and other services are still being conducted virtually.

Council members praised the city’s response.

“The reason why we haven’t asked a lot of pointed questions is that most of those questions have already been answered,” said Chairman Luis Viera, referring to the responsiveness of the mayor’s staff.

Charlie Miranda, who said he didn’t want to dwell on “doom and gloom,” noted that the crisis-induced recession will probably exceed that of the 2008 financial crisis, which cratered the city’s finances for the better part of a decade.

But the city has no choice but to put human lives first, he said.

“This is a time in history that we will all be remembered … on how we handle this,” Miranda said.

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